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‘This is not your grandfather's Inland Empire’ and that's good for business

MECCA, CA - OCTOBER 10:  The A tractor plows a field near an irrigation holding pond on October 10, 2007 in the Coachella Valley near Mecca, California.
MECCA, CA - OCTOBER 10: The A tractor plows a field near an irrigation holding pond on October 10, 2007 in the Coachella Valley near Mecca, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

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The Inland Empire is changing fast. From housing to commerce, the two-county region is going through a growth spurt.

Nearly one million immigrants are part of the area's economic boom, according to a recent study released by UC Riverside’s Center for Social Innovation. That equates to about one in five residents– a proportion far higher than previously estimated. 

"It's a key piece of the Inland Empire's story that is not well told or well analyzed," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, Director of the Center for Social Innovation. "Many people might have the stereotype of the region as being predominantly native-born, non-hispanic, white." 

According to the report, nothing could be further from reality. It's just that public perception hasn't caught up the IE's evolution. "This is not your grandfather's Inland Empire," said Ramakrishnan. "It looks very different today than it did thirty, or even ten years ago." 

Today, the Inland Empire is "majority hispanic"

Mexico is the No. 1 country of origin among Inland Empire immigrants, more than in Los Angeles. 

Asian immigration is on the rise 

Filipinos are the largest growing population among Asian immigrants, compared to Los Angeles, which has a much larger Chinese community.  

Contributions to the regional economy 

"You have a fair amount of immigrants working in agriculture, and Mexican immigrants tend to be overrepresented among those that work in agriculture," said Ramakrishnan. "This is especially true in the Coachella Valley." 

Ramakrishnan said the report also found a correlation between Filipino immigration and the healthcare industry. "If you look at the settlement patterns, where you see concentrations of filipino immigrants tend to be around more hospitals."

Immigrations status in the IE

"About half of the immigrant population lacks citizenship," said Ramakrishnan. 

But the number of naturalized citizens has increased about 10 percent over the last decade, and Ramakrishnan expects the number of people who complete the citizenship process will go up, partially spurred by anxiety over current immigration policies.

Changing perceptions  

Ramakrishnan and his fellow UC Riverside researchers hope the new data will help community service providers better meet local needs, and also be used by lawmakers who work on immigration policies in the region.

"People do not think of immigrants when they think of the Inland Empire," said Ramakrishnan. "And I think we're starting to change that conversation."